Riewerts wins FFA state title

Lisa Depies
Susan Riewerts, left, recently won the state FFA floriculture award. With her is Geneseo High School agriculture instructor Brian Stahl.

Geneseo High School senior Susan Riewerts recently converted her two years of work experience in the floral department at HyVee in Silvis into a state championship.

Riewerts was named the FFA state floriculture award winner on April 5. She will be honored at the Illinois FFA ?State Convention in June.

Floriculture is one of 50 state proficiency award categories. The selection of a state award winner is based on a personal interview as well as the size and growth of the member’s Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project. Riewerts advanced through the chapter, section and district competitions before competing at the state level.

“My project is all about the work I do in the floral department at HyVee,” said Riewerts.

“The work ranges from arranging flowers to waiting on customers, to taking care of plants and cleaning.”

Riewerts said she’s had a life-long love of flowers — “It was always a family thing in the spring for my mom and sister and?I to work in our flowerbeds” — which she was able to translate into a part-time job.

“I never anticipated I was going to get the floral job. I was a high school student, but they still hired me,” she said. “At first, I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities, but the longer I’ve been there the more responsibilities I’ve been given.”

Riewerts took a horticulture class at Geneseo High School, where she was able to learn some of the principals behind floral arranging.

“Now I’m able to do all sorts of things, including large-scale arrangements,” she said. “I love getting paid to play with flowers.”

When she designs a floral arrangement, she keeps the customers’ desires in her mind.

“The wheels start turning in my head depending on what they want,” she said. “I deal a lot with guys who come in and want to buy something for their wives, mothers or girlfriends. They have this lost look in their eyes, so I enjoy being able to help.”

For her ?FFA project, Riewerts has kept a record of her work. “My record’s basically what I do every day — the things I?learn, how many hours I?work, everything.”

Judges then pour over contestants record books looking for errors. “They really take time and critique your book. They look for errors and try to keep you on your toes.”

After the book is reviewed, contestants have an individual interview with the judges.

“At the state level, I got asked a lot of questions about pricing and about ordering

flowers. They really want to know how much you know,” she said.

Five finalists advance to the state level, and Riewerts said the day of the contest she got to know her fellow contestants “quite well.”

“You all have to sit and wait together through each person’s interview. We went in reverse order, based on section number, and since Geneseo is in Section 3, I had to go last,” said Riewerts. “I got to see each one of them go in for their interview and then come back out. I just had to sit and wait and wonder what I?was in for.

“I really got to know everybody, and they were all very nice, but, at the same time, you’re thinking, ‘I’ll be happy if I can beat you,’” she said.

After winning at the state level, Riewerts was told it was her passion for floriculture that helped win her the title.

“They told me that my eyes would just light up when I talked about my project. I absolutely have a passion for this, and it’s nice to enjoy going to work every day,” she said.

Riewerts said she put a lot of work into her SAE records.?“Having an SAE project is a requirement for being an FFA officer,” she explained. “I’ve had a project book for the past three years, but this year, as president, I decided I just needed to set a good example and really take the project to heart.

“I took it very seriously this year and tried to set a good example for the underclassmen, expecially the freshmen. I didn’t procrastinate, and I didn’t put my project off, which really helped,” she said.

Winning the state award has been “the cherry on the top” of Riewert’s senior year.

“This is a great way to end the year, and I think it’s a good reflection on my FFA chapter and on (FFA advisor) Brian?Stahl. He’s done so much to help all of us, checking our work and making sure everything’s in order. Winning at the state level is a result of my hard work and his hard work paying off.”

Riewerts’ project will now advance to the national level where it will be in competition with projects from all fifty states and Puerto Rico.

“I don’t know if my state win has really sunk in yet, because it’s still crunch time to try and get ready for the national competition,” she said. Riewerts said she must submit her project to the national level by June. Projects will be reviewed by a panel of judges throughout the summer, but final decisions won’t be made until the fall.

Riewerts is the daughter of Dale and Veda Riewerts of Geneseo. She plans to attend Black Hawk East in Kewanee and major in ag business and marketing, with plans to transfer to either Western Illinois University or the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.